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Security Brief: Evolving Dissent in the United Kingdom

Week of May 3, 2021 | Issue 13


Charlotte Drozd, Mariam Khorenyan, Mark Wilcox, CRIME


Protestor from the “Kill the Bill” protests in London, United Kingdom[1]

Date: Saturday, May 1, 2021

Location: Newham, London, UK

Parties involved: UK general population, Metropolitan police, British gangs, social service centers

The event: Concerns are growing in the Newham borough of London that a centuries-old gang feud involving over 20 gangs and drug trafficking is rising again, which is expected to put many of the residents in harm’s way. Recently, the murder of two teenagers has had local communities particularly concerned about how young people may become involved directly and indirectly with the continuing feud, which has called for the public as a whole to consider important intervention strategies.[2]

The implications:

  • The threat of gang violence in London is not a new phenomenon, as the government has attempted to implement policies to stop the recurring threats over the past years. The resurgence and continued resiliency of gangs in the area demonstrate that the policies have not been working. One fundamental problem is that the policies have been modeled similarly to those from the War on Drugs in the United States (US), which hopes to criminalize and punish drug use and trafficking. Although this may be an important part of the process, these types of laws do not curb the precursors to gang affiliation and put people who are in cycles of drug abuse in a non-rehabilitative state. To take more tangible steps to prevent the growth and prevalence of gangs, the government and agencies should work on reducing recruitment factors that encourage young people to join. Policies that are oriented towards decreasing poverty, increasing job opportunities that are more lucrative than the drug industry, and working towards solving problems towards inequality are an essential part of the equation.

  • When different regions experience increases in violence, many governments turn to increased police presence to add deterrence and provide more on-site support. However, increased policing, especially when areas have displayed a level of distrust against law enforcement, has the potential to make security-based situations worse. When engaging with gang-based violence and increased recruitment, simply arresting members of the gangs is not a complete solution because it allows the sources of recruitment to remain and has the potential to increase hostilities against the police. Instead, an essential component in the response needs to be building relationships with the community members to demonstrate good faith but also to receive valuable intelligence about concerning developments. Local community members often have unique insights and can be a valuable part of the policing process that seems less oppressive and more collaborative.


Date: Saturday, May 1, 2021

Location: London, UK

Parties involved: UK General Population, Police/Law Enforcement Personnel, Local and National Governments

The event: On Saturday, May 1, 2021, UK residents took to the streets to protest against a new law proposing harsher restrictions on freedoms of speech and assembly.[3] The proposed law is expected to give law enforcement officials more power in detaining protesters who damage property or disrupt regular business operations. Protesters and civil society advocates, who marched under the banner of “kill the bill”, have argued that such laws would violate the country’s democratic values and would be a sign of moving towards authoritarian rule.

The implications:

  • If the UK Parliament passes the proposed bill, the country will follow the examples of other European countries such as Hungary and Poland, which are also currently experiencing a similar trend of their governments attempting to take more control over civic action. This bill is intended to give the state government and law enforcement more power to infringe on the local population’s right to protest against injustice. Following the crux of the Black Lives Matter throughout 2020, people all over the world have been taking to the streets to express their disdain regarding the police killings of innocent individuals. To appease the public, it seemed like governments worldwide were starting to listen to the demands and criticisms from the public. However, in this case, by taking away the right to protest and assemble from the people with this proposed law, the UK government will infringe upon the right to express opinions freely and may exacerbate the number and scale of protests instead.


Date: Saturday, May 1, 2021

Location: London, UK

Parties involved: General Public and Police Officers

The event: On Saturday, May 1, 2021, protestors marched through London demanding a reversal of legislation that would give the police more power. The legislation in opposition would give police the authority to block non-violent protests. A statement released by law enforcement stated that nine people had been arrested during the march.[4]

The implications:

  • These anti-legislation protests and marches follow the killing of a woman named Sarah Everard who was murdered by a police officer in London. Following her murder, protests erupted nationally in the UK, sparking debates on gender violence and the right to voice freedom of speech. A peaceful vigil was denied due to COVID-19 concerns, but a crowd still gathered to attend the vigil. The police then started arresting people at this event and at other protests that followed.[5] If this new piece of legislation is passed, protests and gatherings such as the ones that were in support of Sarah Everard and against the police will increase the number of arrests in the country. Additionally, this new legislation comes at a time of increased protests, and may increase tensions between the public and the law enforcement—the public may believe that the legislation is intended to stop their right to express their views and opinions on important matters that require state attention.

  • The nine people who were arrested in this event were reported to have engaged with officers and tried to gain access to a police station. Even though the majority of police officers are not equipped with guns as compared to law enforcement forces in the US, there have been several recent movements protesting against the police.[6] In the UK, the protests are centered around expressing dissatisfaction over the police taking away the right to protest. In the US, protests have taken place against the overuse of weapons and physical force. This demonstrates that law enforcement forces may be facing scrutiny for their actions for many different reasons around the world.

[1] “Kill the bill demonstrator” by Tebo Steele, licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic.

[2] London killings: ‘It’s like a war zone. How did it come to this?’, The Guardian, May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/may/01/london-killings-its-like-a-war-zone-how-did-it-come-to-this

[3] Thousands march through London in biggest ‘kill the bill’ protest yet, The Guardian, May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/may/01/thousands-march-through-london-in-biggest-kill-the-bill-protest-yet

[4] Nine arrested in London protests against greater police powers, Reuters, May 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/nine-arrested-london-protests-against-greater-police-powers-2021-05-01/

[5] Sarah Everard killing and London police handling of demonstrations against violence targeting women sparks growing backlash, CBS News, March 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sarah-everard-killing-london-police-demonstrations-violence-against-women/

[6] The Vast Majority of U.K. Police Don't Carry Guns. Here's Why., NBC News, March 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/why-london-won-t-arm-all-police-despite-severe-terror-n737551

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